By Leslie Fazin ’10“It was great to meet like-minded individuals who all wanted progress.”
When Tiffany Tucker ’05 mentors New York City students about the importance of graduating from high school and pursuing a college degree, she draws inspiration from Bob Marley’s Redemption Song. Strumming his guitar and following his legendary Jamaican vibe, he sang, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our minds.” This call to action is synonymous with the mission of Ms. Tucker’s burgeoning nonprofit, Redemption, named after Mr. Marley’s ballad.
Ms. Tucker is passionate about reversing the cycle of low expectations and stagnation that have snagged too many of her peers. “I graduated from South Shore High School in Brooklyn,” she says, “but during my time there, I saw and experienced a lot of injustice, and I said to myself, ‘Once I graduate, I am going to come back and give back to my community.’ I felt that the students deserved more.”
South Shore High School closed in 2010 due to its abysmal graduation rates, but Ms. Tucker was one of the lucky few to make it to college.
At Adelphi, she majored in international studies and minored in African American and Ethnic studies. She joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Caribbean Cultural Awareness Club, and studied abroad in Paris.
“The campus was so open and free,” she says of Adelphi. “You could sit and study on the lawn; you could start a club if you wanted to. It was the freedom to succeed. I would say, ‘Wow, I could really do all of this?'”
She vowed to fuel inner-city kids with this same sense of possibility. During her sophomore year, with encouragement from her professors and friends, and the passion and commitment she shared with her classmates Dana Johnson ’04, Jamila Manning ’05, and Fayola Williams ’04, she followed through on her promise to empower the students from her community.
“One year into being at Adelphi, I came to them with the idea and they said, ‘Yes, Tiffany, let’s make this happen!’ There was no thought about it,” she says. “And they all weren’t from Brooklyn. They just understood. It was great to meet like-minded individuals who all wanted progress.”
After about a year of planning, Ms. Tucker founded Redemption, Inc., which now serves more than 700 Brooklyn-based teens each year. Its goals—to help students stay in and graduate from high school, enroll in and graduate from college, and find employment—are achieved through workshops, application assistance, tutoring, and one-on-one mentoring.
“When I first joined, I was the type of person who didn’t like speaking in front of people, but now I’m so outgoing; I’m never scared to speak in front of anybody,” says high school junior Brian Heckstall, who joined Redemption as a freshman. “I’m very thankful for this program. There aren’t many people, like Tiffany, who go out of their way to give kids this kind of opportunity.”
Last fall, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University recognized Redemption as a Bright Idea for its fresh approach to longstanding problems.
A unique aspect of Redemption is its Youth Community Council, which Ms. Tucker formed in 2008. The council enables Redemption students to help run the organization and create innovative new programs, including: Get Your Mind Right, the annual back-to-school fair that provides middle and high school students with free school supplies; ONE Youth Forum, an opportunity for students to voice their opinions on race, culture, and stereotypes; and the Best of the Best Movement, a program that celebrates students with a minimum grade-point average of 75 percent and higher.